Local History

Mining the past…

Working with the Elvaston Castle team, as a supplier, visitor or volunteer, offers a fantastic way into the world of local history studies.

Whether your passion is for the English country house, the landscape and people of Derbyshire, or the wonderful flora and fauna of the Derbyshire countryside – then Elvaston Castle has much to offer, whatever your level of engagement or depth of interest.

Local history, we would argue, is all about context. It might be the life of those who lived in the ‘big house’, which in the case of Elvaston is a fascinating story in its own right, or it may be that you and your family can contribute to knowledge about the local villages, the county in general or the people who worked at, or even passed by, the ‘great house’ in the trees.

Below we have looked at a number of very accessible resources that can help you understand your life, that of your family and how history has affected the stories we all have to tell about the house and grounds.

History – the big picture:

The book available below is a History of the County of Derby by Stephen Glover, it is dated 1829.

A Google Book scan of a19th C text. (In the Public Domain)
A Google Book scan of a19th C text. (In the Public Domain)

Pages 55 and 56 offers a revelatory list of coal-mines that were working in the Derbyshire country side at this time. It is a wonderful indication of the importance of mineral extraction in the history of the county and how many lives were dependent on the industry in the past. Is your village featured in the list?  See more here…

The Great Derbyshire fault, which bought the coal-seam to the surface was an important part of growing the economy of the county. So extensive was the field, that it easy to see how the great houses in the county zealously guarded their boundary fences, their views and the careful agricultural development of their estates, in order to stop ‘King Coal’ intruding into their rural life.

Although not all life was industrial at the time the book was completed. Mole-catching was a source of income, and the author details one village where, in 1828,  over £11 was paid by the parish to residents for this service. Boys, we  are told, could redeem their captured sparrows for a farthing each from the parish officers.

Neither of the above sitting comfortably with our conservation ideals today. Nor as suitable enterprise opportunities for the estate, we would argue, despite Elvaston Castle’s rich wildlife and landscape? The Everything Elvaston team have much more sustainable enterprise ideas to offer.

Philip Kinder is referenced in the Glover text. Being another early historian of the period who has written about the middle of the seventeenth century. Having  the following observations relating to the character and lifestyles of the inhabitants of Derbyshire.

“The countrie women here are chast and sober, very diligent in their huswifery; they hate idleness, love and obey their husbands, only in some of the great townes, many seeming sanctificators use to follow the presbyterian gang, and upon a lecture day, putt on theire best rayment, and hereby take occasion to goo a gossiping.

Your merry wives of Bentley will sometymes look in ye glass, chirpe a cupp merrily, yet not indecently. In the Peake they are much given to dance after the baggpipes, almost every towne hath a baggpipe in it”.

Derbyshire was obviously a busy county awash with music, non-conformism but with no sight of the feminist ideal on the landscape at all.

History – getting local:

Your local library is always a good place to start. Ask the attending Librarian for advice about access to maps, census records, historical photo archives or for archives of old newspapers and journal.

This is always a great place to start your journey of discovery. Did you have a relative who was ‘in service’ in the Nineteenth or early Twentieth century? Did they follow a particular trade or job? All of these can be great ways into finding our about  your background and family history.

You can also look for records or artefacts that have meaning for you from the stories that families hold together. An uncle stayed here, and Aunt worked there. Each one a tiny portal to the first steps on a journey of discovery.

Web link iconYou can visit the Derbyshire Records office on-line here. The Record Service also has a great blog you can follow – helping you see how the dusty picture or torn document can be bought back to life, both in the imagination and in the physical world.

 Picture in the PastWeb link icon is another web service that helps you locate and keep your memories. You can search the pages by place name, as well as order a whole range of things with your chosen  historical images printed on them. Great gifts for a budding local historian!

 History – accessible formal learning:

There are also any number of Open Days, Study Days and short courses you can undertake, in order to be more informed about the preservation and utility of the English Country House. We offer some examples below.

  • What: The Destruction of the English Country House
  • When:
  • Where:
    The Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre
A day of study at The V & A

STUDY DAY: Sir Roy Strong, Marcus Binney, Tim Knox, John Harris and other curators and historians lead a study day devoted to exploring the legacy of the V&A’s celebrated 1974 exhibition, The Destruction of the English Country House.

As the fascination with historic houses continues to grow, this event highlights the challenges and possible solutions associated with saving the country’s ancient homes.

Saturday 15 November, 10.00 – 17.00

£45, £35 concessions, £15 students

 See booking details here…Web link icon

Learning from a distance?

You might also consider undertaking a longer course of study in the English Country House. The University of Leicester, which does excellent distance learning study courses, have modules available on the Country House.

Web link iconHere is a link to a current module in this subject.

It also offers a book list for the course, which is a very useful starting point for your visit to the library. A ‘try before you buy’ process for learning , if you will.

Always check with the University for the latest information on study here.


The great houses of England come bundled with history in stacks. It is not always about elite families, or the grand individuals who lay claim to our history. The great house was occupied by working people, visited by travellers, supported local communities and made for us, a landscape of opportunity to which technology and the library are key.

Enjoy your local history and that of Elvaston Castle. If you have an idea for a history project let the Everything Elvaston team know. We’ll be happy to help.

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